Monday, June 10, 2013

Food For Thought




Whatever happened to porcelain-handled flatware, earthenware tureens, table centerpieces of flowering plants in wicker baskets, cabbageware plates, faience, floral print cloths and napkins, and all of the other traditional, charming table accessories that one used to see so often?  Not that any of this tableware is obsolete.  In fact, I am sure that many of you set your tables with one (or most) of the aforementioned items.  It's just that the current vogue for spare, minimal tableware seems to relegate the old and the jolly to the annals of yesteryear's tablesetting books or, even worse, to the backs of kitchen cabinets.

Look at the 1980s-era table setting above.  At Hélène Bouilloux-Lafont's house in France, a table was set for a casual breakfast.  Blue and white china, a strawberry teapot, and cabbageware dishes filled with fruit were considered fashionable for dining in the country.  But today, tables in the country are set much as they are in town.  The china is monochromatic as is the table linen.  Glassware is bereft of any ornamentation.  (Sometimes it is even bereft of stems!)  Flatware is little more than tines, blades, and bowls attached to plain metal sticks.  It's all so serious.  Where is the fun?  Where is the imagination?  Where is the strawberry teapot?

As much as I understand the practicality of plain tableware, I am also pretty certain that a beige colored plate won't enliven your table, or your mood, the same way a cabbageware tureen does.


Before we get to the table, let's discuss this room.  I think it is perfection, although the blackamoor vase is a little incongruous considering the room's decor.  This was the Essex home of Peter Coats, who I am assuming is the same Peter Coats, a noted landscape designer, who was involved in a relationship with Henry "Chips" Channon.  Anyway, looking at the table, you'll see there is not much more than a cabbage tureen, plates, simple stemware, and a bottle of Rosé.  So simple, and yet, so chic.



See?  Flowers in wicker baskets.  Very charming.  But what makes this table so very pretty is that floral cloth and napkins.  The blue and white check fabric in the room doesn't hurt, either. (At Château de Saint-André-d'Hébertot in Deauville, France.)


Jacqueline Hagnauer set this table in her home in Provence. The cloth was an Indian print, upon which small slipware plates and "Pont-aux-Choux" place plates were placed. Pink, green, and clear glasses were positioned at each setting. Note those Lilliputian-sized cabbageware salt cellars or mustard jars, as well as the trompe l'oeil basket of cherries.



A Tiffany tablesetting created by Mrs. Angier Biddle Duke.  The "Blue Canton" china looks smashing against the orange chintz cloth.  And that basket, filled with chrysanthemums and cornflowers, helps to tone down any formality at a "Country Supper on the Back Porch".

30 comments:

  1. The first room is perfection, as you say, and a lovely setting for lunch alone. The last, the Tiffany setting, is a wonderful piece of stage setting but what catches my eye, oddly enough, in that torrent of colour is gleam of the pistol-grip cutlery. Blue Canton is delectable.

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    1. I adore pistol-handled flatware. It's timeless, indeed!

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  2. I adore full and accessorized table tops so they have never gone out of style chez moi! And you can imagine how much I love the blue Canton with the orange tablecloth :-)

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    1. Stacey, You and me both! Half of the fun in entertaining is setting an exuberant-looking table. :)

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  3. These dining rooms, and table settings are so fresh and beautiful and charming! It would be such a pleasure to sit down at any of those tables. I just started collecting "Blue Canton", and now I can not wait to try it out with orange. How gorgeous!

    Cynthia

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    1. Cynthia, I adore Blue Canton. My mother has a set of it. Did you know you can put it in the dishwasher?

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    2. No I didn't. Good to know!

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  4. You are right, tables are getting rather blah.

    I recently went to a party where the china was all white and the flatware stainless, but here's the kicker, the all-white porcelain was a sea-motif Rococo-inspired pattern called "Triton" by Royal Copenhagen. The flatware was actually Pottery Barn, but the pattern, "Lettuce" was a modern twist on Rococo as well, and the handles looked like rippling waves (and were very comfortable to hold.) I checked and, unfortunately, both patterns are now discontinued - possible victims of the rage for the plain and correct in tableware.

    Link I found to view the china:
    http://www.bukowskis.com/auctions/573/92-arje-griegst-servis-34-delar-konkyle-triton-den-kongelige-porcelainsfabrik-danmark

    Link I found to see the flatware: http://www.replacements.com/webquote/PBNLET.htm

    The table cloth was sea-green watered silk and was laid with intentional small ripples in the cloth, radiating from the flower settings and the tureen. The "flowers" were cascades of actual seaweed and a combination of full-blown and still in bud ivory blush roses tumbling out of large shells. The food itself was tinged pink and green, with the colors of the shellfish and salad ingredients used in the dishes. The whole effect, with candlelight bouncing and running along the ripples and high points of all the convolutions of china and flatware was magical and all of a theme. It was all elegant and yet fun, and not hokey at all. as some theme-setting can sometimes be. I was kicking myself that I did not have a camera handy....

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    1. Quatorze- Who needs photos with such a descriptive reminiscence? It sounds like a sublime setting. I'm off to check out the flatware.

      That must have been some party!

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    2. The couple are known to "keep alive traditions that have died years before they were born", to paraphrase a line from a delicious Elaine May, Walter Matthau movie, "A New Leaf". Thank goodness they do too; their friends reap the benefit. In summer, they have weekly "picnics" on their NYC balcony and the whole apt is fair game in which to sit and eat and talk with guests, no use of the formal dining table at all. They own scad of china and silver...

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  5. i live in the small city of pittsburgh, and, honestly, my friends and i still set these sorts of tables (well, we aspire to this level of chic-ness, anyway) - maybe we have been out of style for so very long we did not even realize it! i use my mother's blue and white dishes everyday and have very few monochromatic tablecloths - admittedly, my silverware is a fairly tame beaded edge pattern, but i inherited it and it really is better quality than anything i could afford - food tastes better from a pretty plate on an interesting table!

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    1. Grace- If you are out of style, then I am too! Actually, I don't think that we are out of style at all. :)

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  6. That is indeed Peter Coats' cottage in Essex, (from British H & G, I think). And it is the same Peter Coats who wrote some excellent gardening books during the 60's and 70's (gardening editor of House & Garden)- and also two amusing (full of unashamed name dropping) volumes of autobiography which are well worth reading. Have you seen photographs of his set of rooms in Albany? They're in one of those H & G hardback 60's compilations. Think you would like it.

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    1. Luke, Thanks for the heads up. I'm off to see if I can find copies of those books.

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  7. Jennifer,
    I LOVE the first table with the little creamers, tiny vases and colorful china. That's was I aspire to do when I set the table. Thank you for these settings! My oldest daughter grew up with French and English china, but I guess her rebellion was to choose plain white. :(

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    1. Ellen, I aspire to that, too! Such a colorful table setting. It certainly would not have looked quite so charming with plain white plates. :)

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  8. Total agreement. There is a lot to be said for minimalism---but I need more depth and energy (colors & texture) to get me inspired.
    Mary

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  9. Oh the loveliness of these photos...I have never stopped loving a graciously set table and, though my living quarters keep getting (intentionally) reduced over the years, I still hang onto all my beautiful linens and ceramics. I think young people may wake up one day and notice how bleak their tables look and wonder how it got that way. Then we can haul out our private stashes of dishes and such and begin embellishing their lives with our bounty!

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    1. Laurel- Bleak! That word fits those tables to a T. I do hope that ceramics and fanciful linen find popularity once again...and the sooner, the better.

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  10. Wonderful post! And I love your commentary. "Where is the strawberry teapot?" indeed. But color has come back, so can the strawberry teapot be far behind?

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    1. I do hope that the strawberry teapot comes back into vogue soon. :)

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  11. Thank you for another lovely post - it's inspired me to switch my plain white plates up a a few shelves & use my Deruta breakfast set again.

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  12. There's another advantage to colorful table settings: they take the focus off what's on the plate, while Miesian no-color china and plain linens sit back and make you--the cook--do all the heavy lifting. Who needs that kind of pressure? Queensware's a classic, but it's also death on tuna casserole, while Blue Canton works miracles for plain old turkey breast & Uncle Ben's: just add a twisty orange slice--a trick I learned at Denny's.

    [BTW, thanks to the freaky weather, our ships-passing-in-the-night non-meeting at this year's Botanic Gardens Antique Show was unavoidable, but don't worry about it. Next time!]

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    1. How right you are. I think that everything tastes better when eaten from Blue Canton!

      And yes, next time, for sure!

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  13. I love, love, love, lots of pretty china and serving pieces, with crisp colorful cloths and flowers on a dining table. Any time I see cabbage-ware, old Limoge, and the like, at sales I grab them. Perhaps the look does not work with an uber contemporary home, but for me they're timeless and just so happy and inviting. Thanks for a great post.

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    1. You're right that such tableware would look strange in a super contemporary house.

      I bet you have a great collection of cabbageware!

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  14. I rarely comment, but just wanted to say I couldn't agree more. Maybe it's our age -- or our coming of age in the 1980s -- but I miss such pieces, which, to me, are timeless. Design must change because design is a money business, so there's that planned obsolescence concept always at work. I've bought into some transitional, contemporary and even mid-century modern, but I believe many of today's designs are the equivalent of the Emperor's New Clothes. That is not to say that some of it isn't extremely high quality and luxurious -- it is. I'm thrilled to see so many things that I love available in re-sale shops these days. Now is a great time to buy old tableware and antique furniture, and I'm frequently doing just that. The pendulum always swings.

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    1. Sunday, Thank you for taking the time to comment! The 1980s was, I think, the last decade in which this type of tableware was popular. It made an impression on me then and influenced my taste in china, flatware, etc., just as it seems it did for you. And you make a very good point- while a majority of people might dismiss the tureens, the pitchers, and all of the other wonderful table accessories as being old-fashioned, we can simply scoop them up at antiques shops and yard sales!

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